On Saturday, Cincinnati Bearcats visit Columbus to face Ohio State and they look to buck a trend of unsuccessful non-conference away games against high profile opponents.
The Bearcats are capable of winning. But everything has to go perfectly. And there are three main keys to success that Cincinnati must follow to have a chance.
Win battle of trenches
This battle goes two ways - Bearcats offensive line must hold their own against Ohio State’s pass rush and the Bearcats front seven has to get pressure on Ohio State QB Justin Fields.
Let’s start with the defense. Cincinnati cannot allow Fields to get comfortable and to make quick decisions. He had all the time he wanted against FAU in week 1 and he looked extremely confident as a result. The goal of the defense should be to force him out of the pocket and out of his comfort zone. Cincinnati must bring pressure and must hit him as often as they can (legally, of course!).
Fields on taking so many hits against FAU: “On Sunday, I was definitely feeling it.” Via, Kyle Rowland on twitter, who covers Ohio State for the Toledo Blade, Fields said he was “crazy sore” after the game Saturday. Trainers asked him what hurt. His response: “Everything.”
That means guys like Michael Pitts, Perry Young, Malik Vann, Kevin Mouhon, Curtis Brooks, and Myjaj Sanders (who all registered a QB hit in week 1) need to bring the pressure. Defense Coordinator Marcus Freeman does a great job of moving guys around and putting his players in the best position to succeed.
On the other side of the trenches, it will be important for Cincinnati to protect QB Desmond Ridder. Buckeyes registered 4 sacks last week, including 1.5 from monster DE Chase Young. Young is one of (if not the) best in the country and will be trying to get in Ridder’s face all day.
The last time Cincinnati played Ohio State, QB Gunner Kiel had his ribs broken on a clean hit due to pressure from OSU LB Joey Bosa. It’s going to be really important for Ridder to make quick, smart decisions to avoid the rush. Offensive Coordinator Mike Denbrock needs to utilize every weapon and every play he has including quick slants and screen passes.
Protecting the trenches also means opening holes for Michael Warren and the running game (more on that below).
Cincinnati made a lot of mistakes week 1. In the first half, they managed to work into UCLA territory in 6 out of 7 offensive possessions, but came away with just 10 points. That’s because two possessions ended in turnovers and one ended with a missed 31 yard field goal. The fumble came from RB Gerrid Doaks who lost the ball as the Bearcats worked inside the UCLA 30 yard line and the interception came on the goal-line. The Bearcats cannot afford to leave any points on the board.
To beat Ohio State, you need to be nearly flawless. Turnovers, missed kicks will doom Cincinnati on Saturday.
What will also doom them is penalties. Cincinnati committed 10 penalties, including 6 false starts - two of those came on 3rd and 1 situations, pushing the offense back 5 yards.
Establish run and keep it close
In previous games against top teams, there is a common theme - opponents jump out to an early lead and Cincinnati is immediately ditches the run.
Here is a quick snapshot at Cincinnati’s top RB in their last 8 high profile road, non-conference games.
- Mike Boone vs Michigan (2017) - 12 carries, 44 yards
- Tion Green vs Ohio State (2015) - 6 carries, 31 yards
- Rodriguez Moore vs Miami (2014) - 14 carries, 27 yards
- Isaiah Pead vs Tennessee (2011) - 14 carries, 155 yards, TD (take away a 65 yard TD on opening drive and Pead had 13 carries for 90 yards)
- John Goebel vs Oklahoma (2008) - 8 carries, 27 yards
- Butler Benton vs Virginia Tech (2006) - 9 carries, 52 yards
- Greg Moore vs Ohio State (2006) - 3 carries, 14 yards
- Butler Benton vs Penn State (2005) - 3 carries, 15 yards
You see the theme here? This 2019 Cincinnati offense is built around the run game. In 12 games last year, Michael Warren carried the ball 20 or more times in half of those games. In the examples above, no lead back ran more than 14 times. Warren did that in all but two games and those were two routes against Alabama A&M and UConn. He exceed 100 yards in 7 of 12 games and scored at least one touchdown in 10 games.
On top of all of that, QB Desmond Ridder exceeded 30 pass attempts just twice in 2018. This is not a team built to play from behind or throw it too many times, so they need to hang around and keep Michael Warren fully engaged.
Cincinnati came into this season with a loaded backfield but unfortunately, Charles McClelland is out for the season with a torn ACL, Tavon Thomas was not on the depth chart week 1, Gerrid Doaks is back after missing 2018 but got injured last week and his status is TBD, leaving just Ryan Montgomery behind Warren, who played his first game last week.
For Cincinnati, establishing the run will open up big plays for the offense. It will allow TE Josiah Deguara to find space and it will allow WRs like Rashad Medaris and Alec Pierce to find an opening down the field.
The idea of running the ball and keeping the game close are one in the same. If the game gets out of hand, the Bearcats may have to go with plan B. If they can hang out, they can continue to utilize their best offense.
If the Bearcats can keep it close and hang around long enough, all of the pressure will fall on Ohio State. If Cincinnati has a lead, or is within one score after three quarters, Ohio State will no doubt tighten up. With a first year head coach and a QB making his second career start, the Buckeyes will have the whole world on their shoulders, while the Bearcats will have the whole world watching. And cheering.
Do you think Cincinnati can win? Comment below with your thoughts on Saturday’s big game.